A sermon based on Psalm 89:1-8 and Colossians 1:15-29
From 1495 to 1498, Leonardo Da Vinci was a single-minded artist. It was during those three years that the crowning achievement of his entire career began taking shape. The painting was The Last Supper. It measured an enormous 15 feet by 29 feet. It’s an oil on canvas masterpiece that today covers a wall in the dining hall of a monastery in Milan, Italy.
Throughout those 3 years, Da Vinci would change the smallest little details of The Last Supper, caking layer upon layer of paint until it was just right—until he felt it was something worthy of his legacy. And throughout these changes, both small and large, he would invite in his friends—artists whose opinions and eye for the artistic he respected the most. One of these friends went on and on about how extravagant the painting was. This friend said his favorite part of the painting was the chalice Da Vinci had painted in Jesus’ hand. This chalice captivated his friend. He called it “especially beautiful.”
After his friend left, Da Vinci quickly picked up his paint board and brush and began painting right over that chalice in Jesus’ hands. He didn’t stop until all signs of it were gone—until he re-painted Jesus’ hands outstretched and empty.
His friend came back a few weeks later to see the progress Da Vinci had made on this emerging masterpiece, only to find that his favorite part of the painting was gone. He demanded an explanation from Da Vinci.
Why would you paint over that chalice? It was the very best part!
Da Vinci replied,
Nothing—nothing at all—must distract from the figure of Christ!
And so it is that the final version of Da Vinci’s crowning work has Jesus at the very center, His hands generously opened.
Christ is the Center. The Center of God’s heart, the central expression of who God is. And God wants our minds, our hearts and lives centered on Christ. Everything else is distraction—something for us to get rid of, push out of the way, paint right over.
We live in a world of distractions. There are many ways for us to lose our focus on what’s most important. Most of our days, we find ourselves paying attention to lesser things. We even get so focused on all the lesser things and they get the best of us. We forget the greater things. And when we do that, our lives get knocked off center.
Colossians is small on chapters but big on Jesus. It’s only 4 chapters long, but it contains some of the most profound words about Jesus in the entire New Testament. It’s theme? Jesus is bigger than any of us could have ever imagined.
The writer of Colossians declares that Jesus Christ is the voice of God. That when Jesus speaks, it’s nothing less than God speaking to us. That when we look Jesus in the face, we behold nothing less than the face of God. The writer of Colossians says that Jesus is our All in All—the very image of God. Christ is the language that God speaks. When God wants to say something, God says it through Jesus Christ!
United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton says it this way: If you want to know what’s essentially true about who God is and what God thinks, look at Jesus. Christ is like a colander that we can use to filter out everything around us that doesn’t have God’s best interests in mind. The way to do that is to take all that we hear and compare it God’s Gospel of love that was made manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and if anything we hear doesn’t fit God’s Gospel of love, then spit it out, because it’s garbage.
Imagine if you will an author sitting down in her office sitting down to write a new chapter of a novel she’s working on. Her office is tucked away in the corner of her loft in Brooklyn, New York. But her novel is set in a faraway place: Kenny Lake, Alaska. She’s a few chapters into her story, and the characters are numerous. They lead lives that are far different than hers. Living in Brooklyn, she’s surrounded by much more than she could ever need. There’s food markets and drugstores and fancy restaurants all around her. But, the characters she has created live far away from any of those conveniences—life in Kenny Lake, Alaska is completely different from life in Brooklyn, New York.
The author sips her coffee and stares at her computer screen. She wonders why these first few chapters have been so hard for her to write. It takes her way too long to figure out the reason for her difficulty: In all her life, she’s never been to Kenny Lake, Alaska. And how can she write another word of this story until she makes her way there, steps foot in Alaska, learns firsthand, in person, what living there feels like, sounds like? What Kenny Lake, Alaska smells like, and how the people talk, and how they make a living for themselves.
Sure, she could figure some of that out by making a few phone calls to the folks who live there or doing a few Google searches of Kenny Lake, but nothing could ever be as good as going there and making her own footprints in the Alaskan snow, seeing it through her own eyes, experiencing it all for herself.
Friends, God is the author of our story, and He too needed to know what it was like to set foot on the same ground we walk on—to make footprints alongside our own.
So, in Jesus Christ, God jumped inside His own creation and became a part of it. God wrote himself into His own story—inside of history—and became one of us. In the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, God would take the very form of a human being and humble himself, subject himself not only to life as it’s lived in all of its limitations and all of its sufferings, but God would also subject Himself to death—and not just any sort of death, but the worst kind imaginable: death on a cross.
In Jesus Christ, our Mighty God, the Author of Life itself, made footprints in all the dirty, muddy, filthy spaces that make up our own lives. And on the cross, with arms outstretched to embrace the world, God grabs a hold of each and every one of us and draws us in close!
The Christian life is about living our lives in the company of this God who has become a part of our story. Who now in Christ walks with us through our days and our nights, through our mountains and our valleys, through good times and bad.
God has a human face. That of Jesus Christ. And the Christian life is the practice of living in such a way that we reflect the face of Christ so all those around us can see what God looks like. The Christian walk is that journey we make every time we step outside and go about the busyness of our lives, because whether we like it or not, everywhere we go and in everything we do and say, we are the reflection that Jesus makes onto the world.
So, the question to ask yourself is, What kind of reflection are you making? What kind of footprint are you leaving? Is it that of Jesus?
In our passage, the Apostle Paul hopes for a day when everything that is created becomes a reflection of God’s goodness and love shown in Jesus Christ. He dreams of a day when Jesus will become All in All; and everything and everybody, and all powers whether visible or invisible, would know who their Maker is and will finally recognize the love and goodness of the God in whose image they were established…and then start acting like it!
In a world that likes to lift up its leaders to the loftiest of heights—that puts them in the very center of the painting—attributing to them ultimate power and authority, we who follow Jesus see that none of the plans these worldly leaders make, none of the laws they institute, should ever be confused with the plans or dreams of God! Thrones, dominions, earthly powers, and all of our rulers come to nothing because we place our hope not in anything that they can do. Instead, we are asked to set our gaze much higher than that. Our gaze is pointed to the Center of it all, who is Christ.
The challenge of the Christian life is never to confuse the platforms and promises of human beings with the power and promises of God given through Jesus Christ and the hope that he brings to our lives.
The reason why we call Jesus King and Lord is because nobody else but He is King and nobody else but He is Lord. Not any king or Caesar, prime minister, prince, or president should ever have our allegiance. Our allegiance belongs not to any earthly ruler, to no political party, to no purpose other than the loving purposes of God through Christ. Our ultimate allegiance will not be placed in anyone other than the One who opens His hands to us and calls us His own. This, by the way, is what scripture means by having our citizenship in heaven. The phrase means a whole lot more than where we will be after we die. It means giving ourselves to Christ right now, on earth just as it is in heaven, and seeing our identity in Christ as far more important than anything else about ourselves, be it our political affiliation, our ethnicity, class, gender, nationality, or any other category the world loves to assign to us. All of those are lesser things. First and foremost, we are Christians, and we live, move, have our being, and walk in the footprints of a Mighty God!
May nothing we call ourselves ever be more important to us than what God calls us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for in Him, we are named sons and daughters of God. And may nothing—nothing at all—distract from the figure of Christ who stands at the Center of the cosmos, the One who is the Author of our story, who is the very Center of God’s heart, and who wants more than anything to be the very Center of our lives!
All praise to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!